An Interlude Before Act Three

images

It’s the middle of winter and I’m restless with a sense of disequilibrium and lack of purpose.  I am a salmon with no stream to ford.  A swallow that has overshot San Juan Capistrano. On this day, I am at war with the eaves of my home as they plead with me to allow them to just lay down and die, yielding to the opal blue ice shelves that form like glaciers and re-route ice melt under my roof shingles. Each intersection of roofline becomes a loose suture eagerly accommodating frigid water seeking a rivulet or stream that might deliver it to Long Island Sound.  Somewhere across town, a plumber is smiling in his sleep.

I kick the snow off my boots after a pathetic episode with a roof rake and a confused dog that keeps trying to hump my leg.  With my arms disabled, it’s an optimal time for him to challenge my alpha status. He waits until I am staggering under the 40-foot jousting stick and proceeds to mount my leg. One can only imagine what the local soccer mom is thinking as she passes my front yard on the way to a cross-town pick up. She makes a note to take a less profane route home and delay a hard conversation with little Johnny.

My back aches from fighting off my molester and the relentless hacking at the ice that keeps forming like a scab. I hesitate by the front door, leaning down to touch my toes and am once again attacked from behind this time with enough force that I hit my head on the front door and tumble into the foyer.

 “Having a nice time?” My wife asks with amused sarcasm as she walks past under a mound of dirty clothes. The dog grabs a slipper and playfully shakes it in his mouth.  My snow ensemble is designed to withstand wind chills of -5 but it makes it hard for me to move.

 “Please just kill me.” I mutter.

 The dog once again goes for me but this time I kick him and am immediately admonished.

“Ohhhh, he just wants to play!”

“Yeah, he wants to play San Quentin. The next episode will find me dressed like a poodle, smuggling him food from the prison cafeteria.”

“You REALLY need something to do.”

 It is Saturday morning and I flirt with a distant memory of jogging along the strand of Manhattan Beach. I gallop past fit narcissistic Californians and watch as surfers and porpoises angle for position on a perfect feathered green wave. David Byrne appears on my shoulder.  “How did you get here?…Is this your beautiful house?…Is that your beautiful wife?. Who’s dog is that?”

 Self pity creeps in — tendrils of frigid February air winding through my poorly insulated doors and windows.  The recent happy holiday infestation of my children home from college has been replaced by vacant silence of one child left at home.  The slightest noise reverberates through the halls like an empty museum.

I am a grounded Black Hawk pilot no longer needed for adolescent patrols or required to participate in night-time reconnaissance missions. There are no more sudden fire fights borne out of stupidity or unanticipated crisis.  The high school battlefront is becoming a distant memory and I’m now walking life’s journey with a wife and last child who are annoyingly organized and settled.  I’m left with a tangle of frozen winter woods and a dog who keeps trying to jump my bones.

As my life responsibilities once again shift, I’m now confronted with the choice of pouring my newborn time into pleasure, purpose or meaning. Pleasure is easy and most fun. It is a cotton-candy sugar-buzz organized around venal gratification.  It’s a giant roast beef sandwich at 1am. It’s a guy’s golf or ski trip.  It is spending all day in my pajamas writing nonsense.

Purpose is the logical path – with most empty nest professionals doubling down with their personal time, investing back into their business and profession. It’s ironic but it is a time when you are most informed but often the least tolerant of those you are working with or for.  You get opinionated and become less flexible.

Meaning is a tad abstract but is at the core of happiness. It comes from serving something grander than one’s self.  Service is often an inconvenient no man’s land of anonymous need that lies just beyond the safe and convenient radius of those you prefer to help.  However, for those that believe in Karma and spiritual balance sheets.  Meaning creates goodwill and goodwill is useful currency on earth and in Heaven. It just can’t buy you anything at the local 7-11.

My savant son who watches TED talks all day informs me that I need a balance of all three buckets to achieve perfect life equilibrium. Moderation and balance are not my strong suits. And since when are my children presuming to give me advice on how to navigate the sparsely lit corridors of middle age.  He is ridiculously rational and it annoys me. I want to stab him with his selfie stick.

What I really need to do is go pick up cigarette butts outside a halfway house or anonymously clean a public toilet with a toothbrush. My Dad used to call it pity-potty work. A little hard work on your hands and knees does wonder to moderate high-bottom self-pity. I think eating an apple fritter would be better.

I’m not sure where to begin. I consider the possibility of spiriting off to some third world country to build mud huts helping the impoverished out of the gutters of an overpopulated hell. Yet, I am a soft lad – lacking the constitution to stray too permanently from where I have been planted.  I am worried that ISIS might kidnap me at the mall. I know I suffer from an overactive imagination and a healthy penchant for hypochondria. The third world seems awash in sinister characters, pesky paramecium and perpetual pandemics that would make find me washing my hands all day and over reacting to the slightest ache, twinge or itch assuming it is Ebola, the Bird Flu or a new strain of avian-monkey plague.

I could move back to California although according to my father, the state is now Satan’s lower colon and one must now pay very high taxes for crappy public services.

Perhaps all this middle-aged rumination is natural — driven by deprivation of sunlight, and exposure to freezing temperatures that thicken my blood triggering a condition known “mental mildew”.

I choose to move a muscle and change a thought. I enter my den electing to clean out a bloated storage closet. I find myself indiscriminately tossing out items the way a condemned man might suddenly consign his possessions to a passing stranger. It feels good to just throw things away without dwelling on their significance or intrinsic sentimental value.

I find a box that has survived every move since my childhood. It is jammed with the detritus of a glorious misspent youth. There are report cards, letters, coin collections, and odd items of sentimental value that so often find their way years later into some dusty desk caddy at a corner antique shop. A single cuff link from a senior prom, a coin with a naked lady (I am uncertain where this coin actually counts as currency but it must have been a magical place ), a lead soldier missing one arm, and a mercury head silver dime.

I find a fake ID from college. It is for Frank Manly from Missoula, Montana. Really?  Manly? I note that in two weeks, it will be Frank ‘s birthday. He was a February baby and will now be 56. He was always four years older than me. He was a hellion but could not dance.

The pyromaniac in me is delighted to discover 40-year old firecrackers and one M80. I feel that old familiar thrill of arson and am suddenly itching to blow something up a model airplane or incinerate some soldiers.

There are Boy Scout merit badges earned across a thousand nights of hard ground camp outs, 50-mile hikes and knots that would confound Houdini. There were hysterically funny letters from a friend who had a summer college job on an oil rig. Far from Patrick O’Brien, my maritime mate, de-romanticized the notion of life at sea, characterizing his “two week on, two week off” gig as “a hellish descent into overpaid, undereducated men who work all day and watch pornography all night…. And then there is the bad side.”

Years before the Dangerous Catch, this kid was living the dream and almost losing his fore finger every day. This was also the same confederate who wrote to tell me that his dad had made him eat a city pigeon after he shot the bird for sport from his bedroom window. “We eat what we kill.” were the only words of grace his father muttered over my buddy’s piece of squalid squab. How’s that for a life lesson?

I root out my Middle school report cards — replete with Cs and Ds in citizenship. It was indeed a time of attention deficit and awkward hormone filled days. It was also a time of passions — Baseball cards, coins, stamps, puka shell necklace, and a bone dry miniature bottle of Testors olive green paint for a Revell British spitfire.

There were phone messages from my first job in the early 80s. My friend Lloyd would call specifically to torment the secretaries leaving perplexing missives such as, “Mike, call me back ASAP.  If they cannot find me I’m hiding under my desk.”

There were passionate notes from my father remarking on the low IQ of California’s Democratic Congressional leaders including Senator Barbara Boxer who sent him a one sentence response to his three page letter lecturing her on supply side economics. He forwarded a copy of her curt response along with a short note to me: “Dear Michael, a deep thinker…”

There were thank you notes written at gunpoint to myriad relatives for a decade of birthday cards filled with five-dollar bills. More letters to me from my father and a hastily written social contract scratched in the hieroglyphics of a sixth grader trying to avoid some nuclear punishment resulting from a split second of bad judgment that involved three eggs and a massive black fin-tailed Cadillac.

There was a Polaroid of a big-boned six year old in 1967 squeezing the life out of a massive midnight black cat named Panther. Newspaper clippings from the San Marino Tribune trumpeted my Little League and High School athletic feats, followed by old national newspapers reporting Nolan Ryan no hitters, David Cone perfect games, presidential elections and gut-wrenching catastrophes. I moved my hand across the covers of Life magazines depicting the Tet Offensive, Apollo XIII, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne, James Dean and Woody Allen holding a blow-up doll.

I stand up, stretching and carefully return the box to my closet.  I am holding a full trash bag filled with less valued relics of my past, content to shed them like an old skin. However, the container and it’s treasures will remain — a permanent time capsule of my life – a journey of innocence, havoc, discovery, change and accomplishment.

I realize that this time is but another life interlude, a brief intermission before Act 3.  What I have lost in physical ability, I have accumulated in knowledge, humility and a keener lens to the world.  There is so much more to do and I clearly am going to need a bigger box.

As my blue mood lifts, I retreat to the floor to stretch, drawing my knee up to my back. I do not hear the door creak as I shift into a yoga position on my hands and knees.  I do not see my assailant but am hit hard from an angle.  It is the damn dog.

My wife looks up for her seat at the computer as a shrill “get the hell off of me!” bounces across three downstairs rooms.

Absentmindedly, she looks out the window and yells to me.

“Honey, what do you think about getting another dog?”

A Final Kiss for Miss Crystal

IMG_6671The doctor studied the malignant shadows on Crystal’s lungs as the weak arc of winter sun was being devoured by denuded trees. Amidst these winter solstice days, the world is trapped in permanent twilight.

Her breathing had been labored for the past few days and she had stopped eating.

“I really can’t tell if the fluid is from some type of heart failure or a mass in her chest.” He remarked absent-mindedly as he turned the X-Ray image sideways. “We probably need a EKG. She’s an old lady and well, these things happen. I suppose we can refer you to an oncologist but if it is a mass, you might do well to start thinking now about making arrangements.”

Arrangements?

“She could be in pain. There’s no way of knowing at this point until we drain the fluid and try to see what’s causing it. It’s not good though. For now, take her home and try to keep her comfortable.”

 Is there not a Sloan Kettering for cats?

It had been a long day and I was not emotionally prepared for a dinner discussion about palliative care, hospice or Dr Kevorkian. This was not just any cat. This was Crystal – – she-wolf of the pachysandra, eviscerator of all raptors and rodents and my literary muse. The vet seemed not to notice that his suggestion was asking our family to euthanize a section of our own hearts.

My wife looked as though she had been on the losing side of a Joe Louis fight. Her swollen eyes betrayed her maudlin day as she sat on the edge of a bed stroking the gaunt, aging lioness whose purr still thrummed like a 350hp engine.

It all hit me, the flood of memories: cats, dogs, fish, turtles, newts, snakes, hamsters, rats — all prematurely taken by automobiles, old age, ignorance, disease, other pets, and in one case, a cannibalistic sibling – a crime scene that still ranked in my mind with the Tate & LaBianca murders. There was never time for emotional preparation, we would return home from school only to be told of Frank, the alligator lizard’s untimely demise. We would mourn life’s cruel inequities. Each death would often be followed by a memorial worthy of a head of state. We would carefully prepare a shoebox coffin often with one of my mother’s expensive silk hand towels. On this particular day, we had gathered at the edge of a small dirt fissure near the back ivy yard fence. We gave everyone an opportunity to share stories about Jay, the kangaroo rat.

“He was a friend to every kid.” Someone said.

We used kite string to unevenly lower the cardboard shoebox into the dirt – the way my brother had seen Churchill slowly interned on television during his state funeral.

Yet, here I was, at 52, moved into adolescent depression by my cat’s terminal prognosis. In my slow shuffle across the sweeping steppe of middle age, I have come to accept that each life is indeed terminal but also understand, as Lincoln mused that “it is not the years of living but the living within the years” that counts. In time, a man may become the things he once ridiculed. As a young invincible, I routinely cast stones at death the way a child might throw rocks at headstones as I whistled passed a graveyard. I was convinced my broad mind and narrow waist would never change places.

This milestone was inevitable. Yet, I felt unprepared. Death, the thief, was once again scratching at my window wanting to steal my precious whiskered talisman into the night. In a life so jammed with preconditions and contingencies, I increasingly found delight in the simplest things – my favorite chair, my routine and the unconditional love I would receive from an ordinary white house cat.

In her youth, Miss Crystal expressed her unconditional love for us in macabre and graphic ways – often leaving what appeared to be a small lima bean or earth worm in a conspicuous location. Upon closer examination, the odd gifts were confirmed as the internal organs of some unfortunate rodent who could not even be identified by its dental records. Perhaps, the bequest was a spleen or a segment of intestine. She radiated feline conceit and like the Victorian mad man from east London, could perform complex surgery with a single talon. On the lethal day she arrived in a crate from JFK, rumors and raw fear began to circulate through the New Canaan rodent community of a new and terrifying Ripper, an alabaster Lizzy Borden that swept in like a silent avalanche capable of devouring rabbits and small dogs.

She was in fact, a Cinderella story of sorts – a rag to riches housecat rescued from near death in a grubby, ramshackle pet mill in southwest of London. She was a Father Christmas surprise for an eight-year-old girl who was homesick for friends after moving half way around the world to start a new life with her family.

“I’ll call her Crystal because she has such blue eyes.”

I had been chasing the kitten around the house for hours after she had escaped our bedroom late Christmas Eve. I could no longer disguise her existence as an increasingly suspicious and excited trio of children writhed in their early morning beds. As I smiled with satisfaction, I mindlessly scratched an itch on my arm which turned out to be ringworm, courtesy of our new family member. In time, we would endear ourselves to many families in SW19 as our cat became the local distributor for the loathsome skin disease.

Both cat and young girl eventually grew into women but they never stopped cuddling or consoling one across four thousand nights of adolescence. Nighttime would find them in deep conversation, a unilateral discussion about what to wear to school or perhaps who to invite to tea. She would visit me at night after the children had gone to bed, weaving between my legs like a pilot fish before leaping on to my desk and sitting on my paperwork, daring me to play by knocking every pen, pencil or moveable object off my desk. She would swat at my hand without bearing her claws, boxing and trying to lure me into a game of cat and crab.

She was like Wordsworth’s solitary cloud. Her purring reassured us, soothing our trauma in the months following 9-11. She padded her way through fifty-two seasons of life. She always seemed to sense when a gray cloud was crouching on one of our heads and would find us, coaxing us back into her world of gardens and butterflies.

Her foreign policy was fickle – a shrewd mixture of passive aggressive affection. It soon became apparent that she preferred women to men and children to adults. She would occasionally use her bodily functions as method of conveying her judgment of people, places and things. A male house sitter vowed never to return when a simple “present” was left right in the middle of his bed. It seemed to suggest that he spend the remaining evenings at his apartment.
Like most pets, she taught us responsibility, the risks and rewards of unconditional love, the vagaries of living with domesticated animals and the simplicity of sitting in a window watching as the world swirled all around you.

Time moved on and the English matron chose voluntary exile to the upstairs with the adoption of an Australian Shepherd pup. She loathed him and never forgave the Gods for upsetting her perfect only-child world. She lived with the girl, watching her grow into a woman – all the while weaving in between prom dresses, suitcases and increasingly long absences. In fits of loneliness, she turned to the inferior boys and on rare occasions would work her way down the stairs to yowl like an alley cat for attention. She resorted to exploring the house in the dead of night – an ancient Grace Pool exploring her former domain, ever wary of the jingling collar of her nemesis – the dog. She had gone from making history to being a relic of a waning age of innocence. Yet, she rested and waited for the girl to return – always appreciative of any affection and the attention that came when the upstairs would be once again crowded like a Pullman sleeping car.

I shift off of my stiff right shoulder. It’s now dark outside and the room is dimly lit. I sit on the floor, my arms stretched under bed where she rests in the dark – her sides scalping as she wrestles with lungs that cannot purge the fluid that keeps filling within them. The reassuring bustle of her purring rises each time I move my hand across her head and down her back. Her tail twitches with a slow rhythmic snap, a sign of happy fatigue. I scuttle my fingers across the floor emulating a crab. She half-heartedly swats at me and closes her eyes. The graying man and the snow-white grand dame now resting side by side. She moves closer and I touch my nose to hers, prompting her to lick her lips – a kiss goodbye. She falls into a fitful sleep and I descend down the stairs.

She’s still fighting the shadows so she might remain at our sides.  When she finally releases this life, she will be remembered like a singular snowflake.  Perhaps she will be reincarnated into a magnificent monarch butterfly or a tempestuous French actress.

One thing is for certain: Miss Crystal makes my weird little world a better place and leaves only love – and small rodent spleens — in her wake.

Cock-a-doodle-doo-doo

“Uniqueness is the commodity of glut.” Matt Ridley, GenomeImage

In the ancient animal kingdom of my youth, there were only two kinds of dogs –mongrels and pedigrees.

Purebred dogs dominated film and television as canines like Lassie and her Aryan cousin, German Shepherd Rin-Tin-Tin, proved time and again that the pedigreed dog was indeed man’s best friend.  The mongrel dog, however, was viewed as a poor relation and a mere supporting actor.  With names like Tiger and Scout, these mud-bloods were furry accessories and semi-domesticated symbols of the nuclear family.

They greeted us on our front door steps, would willingly eat broccoli passed under the table, slept in dog houses and protected personal property across America’s rural and suburban communities. Mongrel dogs were a microcosm of our nation – a melting pot whose murky mélange of genetics produced a strange but even stronger alloy of person and animal.

Veterinarians were trained in school to use more politically correct clinical terms  like “pound puppy” or “mixed breed” to describe a dog with questionable heritage. Our vet explained that our mix breed dog was smart and resourceful – a testimony to his confused lineage and hard knocks upbringing.  Max was a poodle, shepherd and terrier mix.  It must have been quite a party the night he was conceived.  His genetic cards left him looking like the lead guitarist in an acid rock band — wild, matted hair, crazed eyes and an inability to focus. He was a fearless guard dog with the guts of a burglar and a pit bull’s resolve.  Max was fearless and would chase anything that moved including cats, trash men, small children and trucks — the latter of which eventually bested him.

Our neighbors on the other hand, had a pure bred Dalmatian — a dog more tightly wound than the lug nuts on a new bridge.  Luigi had managed to bite every kid in our town — a rap sheet that his owner felt was undeserved. In the epoch of Jurassic parenting where children were always considered guilty until proven innocent, a kid might come home crying of a dog bite and immediately be interrogated by an angry adult, “ well, what the hell did you do to make Luigi bite your arm?” In these days, children were considered sub-human and the benefit of the doubt always fell to the Kennel Club canine with papers.

Around the block was another purebred – a German shepherd named Lobo who had probably been inbred more times than the descendants of the Bounty on Pitcairn Island.  Lobo had bad hips and could not catch an eighty year old with a walker.  However, he was crafty.  He would crouch by a low retaining wall – waiting patiently for kids walking home from school before he thrust his front legs on to the wall and lunged at us savagely barking. His owner, Mr. Heitzenbach, would yell at us while his dog threatened to turn us into eunuchs.  “Hey you kids, quit teasing that animal.”   Germans loved their purebreds. Yet most of their breeds –Doberman Pinschers, Shepherds, and Mastiffs were bred primarily for law enforcement or personal property protection.   Even my grandparent’s schnauzer, Flossie, had a chip on her shoulder.  The only exception to this Aryan purebred factory of fierce creatures was the dachshund, which was really the French’s idea of a funny birthday present to the Kaiser who liked weinershnitzel.  As usual, the Germans failed to see the humor and a few weeks later invaded the Alsace.

As an adult, I finally confronted my sense of inferiority for never having owned a pure bred and purchased an Australian Shepherd.  I had always been fascinated with working dogs — Border Collies, Aussies and Queensland Healers.  Brody, the tricolor Aussie herder was our first effort to join the elite circle of pedigree owners.  As I drove to the dog park with Brody, I felt a strange mixture of pride and betrayal.  Somewhere in the cosmos, Max was lifting his leg on me for selling him out. Driving into Spencer’s Run car park, I spied a United Nations of breeds intermingling, chasing, tumbling and pouncing.

Brody’s genetic programming kicked in within a minute of the dog park.  He wanted to go to work.  The park was imploding with happy anarchy and he was determined to restore law and order.  I suddenly heard the dreaded four-word query that would plague me for months to come. I scanned the yard for Brody and watched as he stood victorious over a Weimaraner. The incensed owner pointed at Brody and screamed, ” Ok, whose dog is this?”

Minutes later I was skulking out of the dog park like a drunk thrown out of a German beer hall during Oktoberfest. It’s actually hard to get tossed from a dog park or a German bar in October.  But Brody had out worn our welcome.  As I dragged my happy but bewildered buddy to the car, a woman walked by with a microscopic caramel-colored, short hair dog with massive ET eyes, alert ears and perfect hypoallergenic hair.

“Hmm. What kind of dog is he?” I asked.

She surveyed me and my Aussie as if we were both immigrant convicts fresh off the ship at Ellis Island. “Francine is a triple chi-mini-poo”

“Isn’t that a drink at Starbucks,” I asked.

“She is three parts Chihuahua, one part miniature pinscher and one part cockapoo. She never sheds, understands Spanish and English and has one bowel movement a day that is the size of a peanut.”

I suddenly pondered Brody’s relentless regularity, his shedding, matted hair that required constant brushing and felt woefully inadequate as if my leaping, twisting, enthusiastic herder was an outdated version of some new cell phone.

“Let’s go home, Buddy. I need to read some Tolstoy to you tonight.” I walked away dejectedly and then remembered her condescending look.

“You know, on second thought, let’s go back into that dog park and make some trouble for these mutants.”

As we reentered doggie Disneyland, I was suddenly aware of the weird and subtle genetic nuances in many of these dogs. They were not just labs, spaniels, cockapoos and terriers -they were genetically modified vegetables.  An animal scurried by my feet and I jumped.  It resembled a NYC roof rat more than a dog.  It ran passed me and jumped into the arms of its owners.  The man cooed, to the dog-rat saying, ” Good boy, Cujo.”  I wondered if Cujo slept on a bed or in a hamster cage.

I could not help but ease drop on two new age, millennium Mendels as they described their genetically altered companions. “Ginger is a ChiShihTzuNot – a Chi Shih Tzu mix with a Nottingham terrier. She’s not like that BullShihtz over there.” She pointed to what looked like a miniature bulldog wearing a curly brown hair shirt. “The Bull breeds are so mischievous and unreliable. Ginger is very consistent. If she scratches at the door, she really does need to go outside to use the rest room.  This breed is all business.”

Brody ran off as he spotted a Springer Spaniel racing along the fence line. I could almost see his brain calculating the angle that would assure him the shortest distance to intercept the moving object.  As he bolted, I whistled at him to stop.  It was no good, his genetics were firmly in control and it was looking as if I would be once again be kicked out of the dog park.  In a flash, he closed the distance on his prey and lowered his head, ready for a spectacular takedown. As I winced and cringed,  the Spaniel miraculously sprouted two small flaps and lifted itself in the air as Brody crashed into the dog park railing and tumbled head over the heels.  The spaniel fluttered harmlessly to the ground and continued on his run. Brody looked like a cold cocked fighter – staggering back to me and collapsing at my feet.

A young man leaned over and smiled. ” Pretty cool huh, he’s one of those Flying Turkey BoxSprings — a cross between a Springer, Boxer and turkey vulture.  Apparently, they are one hell of a dog.  They even eat roadkill.   Don’t you just dig his weird little wings?”

I shook my head and then noticed one dog, walking with determined conviction, his left side to the fence. He patrolled with serious intensity, never leaving the park’s perimeter. He had the head of a mastiff, the wrinkled chrome-blue folds of a sharpei and musculature of a bulldog. He looked powerful but clearly was uncomfortable mingling with the mixed breeds.

“So what kind of dog is that?” I asked pointing at the tough solitary creature.

The young man looked up and shook his head. “Oh Newt, he’s always here.  He’s a strange mix between a Neapolitan and a Conroy pit ball. It’s a weird breed. He’s very tough but never leaves the right side of the fence.  Don’t approach him from the left, he lacks peripheral vision and he might bite you.”

What the heck do you call a breed like that.”

He smiled and turned to reply as he was walking away.

” I think they call him a Neo-Con”

The Cat Came Back

Old farmer Johnson had troubles of his own

He had a ragged alley cat that would not leave him alone

He tried and he tried to give that cat away

And finally gave him to a man going oh so far away

But the cat came back, the very next day

They thought he was a goner but he wouldn’t stay away

The cat came back, he couldn’t stay away, away, away

I am in a metaphysical quandary.  Although committed to the Christian theology of a ” one and done” afterlife, I am troubled by a nagging suspicion.  After several years of close observation, I am convinced our cat was a serial killer in a past life.  It all makes sense to me.  You don’t have to be an FBI profiler to notice the behavioral pattern: loner, obsessive, fastidious, mercurial, prone to torture small animals, mocks authority, and plays bizarre intellectual games.  Serial killer experts Resler, Berger and Douglas offer this chilling description: “At an early age, if the suspect is left alone, or forced to live in isolation whereby little attention is given to them for long periods of time, their minds become the object of their company, and thus begin the daydreams and the fantasy world”.

The behavioral profilers helped me interpret the disturbing piles of feathers, mounds of entrails and most recently, the eviscerated vole that was lovingly left on the front door step for Valentines Day.  Whatever it used to be, it’s next of kin would need its dental records to determine its identity.  Carefully placed next to its body was what looked like a small bean – – perhaps its heart or spleen.  It was a holiday and in my kitty’s twisted mind , she was trying to communicate with us and take part in the tradition of gift giving:  “ Spleen, Be My Valentine “ or maybe “Happy Valentine’s Day. I can’t give you my heart, but how about this one? “.  Then again,  it could be a more sinister warning.  “If I had fingers instead of paws,  ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ would seem like a Disney movie.  Let this be a warning to you. Keep my kibble bowl fresh. “

Our feline Hannibal Lecter often exhibits psychotic nocturnal behavior.  She seems to hear voices and often chases after fourth dimension phantasms and invisible prey.  What does she see?  She purrs loudly and touches her nose to my cheek. “Meeeee-ow” She may be having a sixth sense moment and crying out, “Dude, I see dead animals- everywhere.”

Our uneasy truce  is not unusual. Throughout history, cats have been revered and despised for their peculiar habits and odd, indifferent demeanor.  Domestication of cats began somewhere in the Middle East and achieved its zenith with the deification of Bast, the goddess of family, a divine spirit possessing a cat’s head and a woman’s body.  Aside from ridding granaries and households of vermin, cats were thought to have mysterious healing powers.  In the eleventh century, perhaps after a clutch of ravenous feral felines ate a local farmer’s child, the domesticated cat’s stock dropped precipitously – going from Bast to worst and ranking right up with politicians and snake oil salesman as social pariahs.  Cats were painted with a more sinister brush and associated with the devil, black magic and sexually ambiguous male celebrities.  What resulted was nothing short of a millennium of persecution and the now infamous association of black cats and bad luck.

In colonial America, the Salem Witch Trials alleged that a Barbados slave Tituba was practicing the dark arts. The fact that she owned a black cat and had figured out how to get her broom to sweep the floors -without touching it  should have gotten her a promotion. But those Puritans were a feckless and fearful lot.  Tituba was convicted of being a witch and for corrupting seven young girls — allegedly duping them into practicing the black art of witchcraft.  If Tituba was living today, she would probably have her own television show and record label.  Centuries later, animal researcher, Alain Gato pieced together the forensic and public testimony from the trials.  All the evidence now points to Tituba’s cat, Methusela, as the one that framed her.

Gave it to a little boy with a dollar and a note

Told him to row way  up the river and toss it from the boat

To tie a rope around its neck and a weight of 20 pounds

Now all that they can  tell us is that little boy done drowned

Cats can be loving warm creatures or odd fickle personalities.  Imagine if you lived with a mercurial person where every time you showed them affection they pushed you away. Yet when you ignored them, they came looking for you.  They would disrespect you one minute and then feign affection when they wanted something from you.  Oh wait, that’s a teenager!  But now imagine if this same person, greeted you as you came home, by showering you with love and then suddenly biting your hand – – only to run off laughing.  When you see them again, they pretend nothing has happened. Saying my cat is domesticated is a bit of false advertising.  What other animals remove kidneys and proudly display them like first edition stamps?  I often catch her watching me as if she is sizing me up.  “Oh, yeah, I could definitely take you.  I would eat like a queen.  But, who’d open the cat food and clean out the litter.  You are safe for now.  On the day of my choosing, you’re a dead man.  After that, I  buy a pound of cat nip from the tough tabby Melon across the street and we have that wild party.  Perhaps I might even take a three legged dog hostage and torment him”.

Man on the corner swore he’d shoot that cat on sight

He loaded up his shotgun with nails and dynamite

He waited and he waited for that cat to come around

Nine-seven pieces of that man is all they found

A few years back, we asked a male friend to watch our house and feed Lady MacBeth.  Our cat despised him from his first “I love cats.  We’ll get along fine”.  The first night he returned to our home from work, he found a carefully positioned cat poop on the middle of the bed in which he would be sleeping.  The only thing that was missing was a note that said, “ Yur next” in second grade handwriting. Each night, she chose to do her business on the bed until he finally waved the white flag and only returned to the house each night to feed her.

Cats are like spouses, they always get even.  They will foul your nice linens, shred your furniture and swat your car keys behind the dresser.  I am always nervous when I clean out the litter box ‘lest I dig up a human hand or a missing person’s wallet.  Cats will come up and rub against you, seemingly asking”Is everything ok?  You look a little tense ?”  I can only imagine what goes through the mind of a rodent.  There must be an entire night gallery of horror stories shared by our local rodent community.  Tales of  vanishings, disembowelments and ritual killings so grotesque, it causes the younger rodents to stare at the ceiling all night, wondering if that hairy, psychopath is somewhere in the vicinity.  Squeaked one mole, “ I heard she killed a dog “.  Another squirrel chimed in – – “It’s worse.  She killed a postman and a UPS guy”.  Sadly, even serial killers have a deep bench of those that would vouch for their character.  In my house, it seems the mice and I are the only group that thinks something weird is going on.

I just got home from work and the house is deathly quiet.  It’s just me and the cat. Even the dog, who she has come to loathe – is off on a run with my wife. The feline  is sleeping on a pillow near a book that has fallen from the shelf.  The title? In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Could she have been?………………….Nah.